Poland's cultural capital offers unrivalled culture, history, art and nightlife – all within a largely pedestrianised city centre that dates back to the 13th century.
Situated in the south of the country in the “Little Poland” region, Krakow is felt by many to be the real heart of this proud and historic nation. Situated on the Vistula River, Krakow is a visually beautiful city.
Traditionally, Krakow has been one of the leading centres of Polish scientific, cultural and artistic life. As the former national capital with a history encompassing more than a thousand years, the city steadfastly retains its coveted position as the spiritual heart of Poland.
Unlike the capital city, Warsaw, which suffered horribly during the Second World War and under Soviet domination, Krakow has remained remarkably unscathed by Poland’s troubled 20th Century history.
Recommended In Krakow
Krakow is instantly striking in its appearance, its centre dominated by brightly -coloured Renaissance architecture. There are well located hotels in the area.
Its beautiful Market Square, or Rynek Glowny, is a vast, central focus for the city, which measures 200 metres or more on every side, making it the second largest in Europe after St Mark’s square in Venice. Along with the surrounding streets, it was designed in the 13th century.
In the centre of the square is the Cloth Hall, or Sukiennice, a well-preserved medieval market, which now plays home to an arcade of boutiques. The exterior of the Cloth Hall comprises numerous cafes and galleries. The first floor of the building is now a national museum with some works of major importance to Poland.
Dominating the square is the famed St Mary’s church – or the Basilica of the Ascension of the Holy Virgin Mary, to give it its full name – with its two towers – perhaps the most well-known icon of Krakow.
Every hour for the last 600 years, a bugle has been played from the basilica’s spire, and the tradition continues to this day.
In a tiny room, 54 metres up one of the towers is the “Highest Post” in Poland, from which it is said that all of the former Polish lands can be seen – even to the Baltic sea.
Inside the 14th century building is an atmosphere of great calm and peace. The windows are tiny, and the darkness that lies upon the church’s magnificent wooden High Altar, carved by Veit Stoss, serves only to emphasise its splendour.
Krakow's old town is surrounded by the Planty – a park that replaced the city's walls after they were demolished.
Only one section of the wall remains around the Florian gate. This section of the wall is home to an open-air art fair, where local artists show off their works and try to sell a few pieces. Within the walls and surrounding buildings, visitors can find the Czartoryski Museum – founded in 1796 by Princess Izabela Czartoryska and still run by the same family with the aim of preserving Polish culture. The highlight of the museum is without doubt Da Vinci's lady with an Ermine – painted in 1496.
Above the city and the River Vistula stands the city's royal Castle Wawel, offering great views of the city. Even after the capital was moved to Warsaw, coronations still took place in the castle and it is of great importance to Poles.
Within the Wawel, museums show the royal collections, apartments and the archaeology of the hill. It is also possible to head into the dragon's den below the castle – although its inhabitant was slain by Price Krak – the supposed founder of the city.
When you first venture out into the city, a good place to start is with a walk of the Royal Way, which stretches from St Floridian Gate, across the Rynek Glowny to the Wawel Castle. As well as being a lovely walk, the route is also a good way to see a bit of the city and get acquainted with its layout.
Shopaholics should pay a visit to Plac Nowy's open air market on a Sunday, the flea market on the corner of Al. Daszynskiego and Siedleckiego in Kazimierz, where you can buy swords, sewing machines, gramophone and communist hats - the perfect place for holiday gifts.
Being a university town Krakow has a fantastic nightlife and an unrivalled selection of pubs and clubs, besides the culture on offer.
Visitors do not have to travel far to take in the bars as they are focused in two areas – around the Main Square and in the Jewish district Kazimierz.
Around the square in summer the bars put out tables with Krakowians and visitors alike taking advantage of the views of the square and the Sukiennice.
When the Christmas market comes, locals still head to the main Square, but instead of cool beer, mulled wine is served.
In the evening, the medieval cellars that are beneath the city open up to offer pubs and bars of all sorts. Places to look out for include Club RE, just off the Main Square, which has a series of rooms and a reputation for cutting edge music and big-name bands, and Harris Jazz Bar – where a young audience regularly come out to see the house band whose members are old enough to be their grandparents but still brimming with energy.
During the day and into the night the bar that forms part of Bunkier Sztuki – Krakow's modern art museum – is a cool hangout, in both senses of the word, by the Planty.
In Kazimierz, the bars are focused around Szeroka, Miodowa and Estery streets. The bars in the old Jewish area tend to quirkier, for example Singer (where all the tables are old Singer sewing machines), Propaganda (where old Communist iconography decks the walls) and Club Lubu Dubu (designed to look like a 1980s communist flat with music to match).
Despite all that is on offer from its historic past to exciting future, Krakow still manages to keep a small town atmosphere that leads visitors to return time and again.
The city has good transport connections and you’ll be able to enjoy day trips along the Vistula, into the Tatra mountains, to the salt mines of Wieliczka, and, of course, to the neighbouring town of Oscwiecim – home to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and memorials.
Weather In Krakow
There are four definite seasons in Krakow. Summer is hot and humid and temperatures hover between 30 and 35 degrees C, while winter is typically always snowy and very cold (-5 to -20 degrees C). Autumn can be very wet, while spring is relatively temperate.
Destination Checklist For Krakow
- The official language spoken in Krakow is Polish.
- Krakow is just one hour ahead of GMT.
- The city uses the international dialling code +48.
- The official currency is the Zloty.